I don't know much about Bogotanos or Bogota, but I like what I know. Then again I don't generally take much time to get to know what I don't like. But I have reignited some thinking about South America and our hemisphere. The occasion was, of course, the time this week that I spent down in Bogota.
It must be said that when it comes to business travel in the West, everything is pretty much standardized to what one would expect to see in the post-WW2 America. The themes of planes, trains and automobiles, skyscrapers and luxury shops haven't changed. The modern hotel lobby is the same as it has ever been. People read the newspaper from their mobile devices, but it's still the news. Men with jackets and ties still walk with purpose through the business districts. People still stand waiting for the bus or the subway. Traffic. Coffee. Corner drug stores.
I have come to understand something about change. It doesn't concern me, but I watch. I feel that I am more sensitive to what I think can happen to the average Joe. And I see how people with a bit of means protect themselves from the winds of change, and how those who think they can predict how those winds will blow, place themselves to be agents or at least harbingers of that change. I think that the more that I travel in the West, the more dimensions of up, down, left and right I see that the people might go. The price of gas. Strollers. Men on motorcycles. Grafitti.
The food in Bogota is not so spicy as I thought. The street grids are more logical than I expected, more logical than New York City. Bogota in pictures from the air gives no indication as to how large it actually is. Nor can one be prepared for how much a hike of three blocks takes the wind out of you at the 8500 foot elevation. The security preparations of buildings is impressive, perhaps reminescent of a more violent pass. The days when soldiers are posted outside of the Four Seasons Hotel suggest a people who haven't forgotten how wrong things might go. The evidence is in the ubuiquity of glass sharded walls and electric fences. But these do not block the view. The colors of the bricks show through. That which is new, is bright and well lit, dramatic, but not quite so open. I have never had a tamale that I ever liked before until yesterday. The beggars sell candy. There are cars from China. The radio fine print is truly incomprehensible.
The people are smaller than Australians, who are a bit smaller than Americans. So it is something of a shock to see so many police in their fluorescent green jackets who look like they might be second-string highschool footballers. Since I was in the district where the banks headquarterd and Carocol Radio broadcast, they and their K9 patrols were ubiquitous. This provided an odd kind of sense of safety. A civilization of necessity that might under other circumstances start to resemble a police state, although a small shouldered one. So the nightlife was vivid, but not hectic. As a city, it is rather like Los Angeles. People are commuting the carreras in multi-linked buses and small taxis. There are probably more of them than private cars, and even in the upscale hills, there were only two Mercedes seen all week. People are on their way somewhere, and the style of getting there is not important. It is a city in motion whose sidewalks are busy but not crowded.
There are the Carullo stores and the Exito stores, Mobil and Texaco gas stations. The drivers are on the right side of the road and the speed limit is in kph. Gasoline is sold by the gallon and the dollar buys about 3100 pesos. There are Starbucks, Burger King, Subway. There are Empanada shops and juice bars. Everywhere is a peluqueria or a gym. Women wear their pants tight and their hair long. Men on motorcycles are bold but not reckless. They wear their helmets. People are polite, then again, we were in the polite and expensive part of town. At Harry Sasson restaruant, the salmon carpaccio was exquisite and the shrimp fried rice was a pleasant surprise. The coconut ice cream did not need the chocolate sauce, and I enjoyed the hearts of palm more than I expected. Down on Carerra 14 with the massive lunch of beans, rice, chorizo, chicharones and three shots of aguardiente, the bustle is more down to earth.
Monserrate provided the quiet time every business trip requires. Some simple cheese breads and hot aqua de panela was the perfect respite at 10,500 feet up overlooking the city at night. Even as the beats from the Friday night concert echoed up the mountain, it was just proper that such a city reserved its highest heights for a shrine. Surely it was once a monestary, but now the LEDs cycle from blue to green pastel on the white stucco walls of the church. And then it was back to Carrera 7, through the nightlife where the music stores and nightclubs drew crowds in the comfortable chill of January, four degrees north of the Equator.
I can't help but think of Colombia as a nation reborn, even with its upscale Juan Valdez Cafes, there is in my mind a feeling of openness and optimism. This is a life and a city that works, that seems unshackled but not quite unshaken from dangerous days past. There is plenty to be proud of, and the new construction demonstrates much to look forward to. Here is a town where the national soccer stadium is not plastered with the billboards of sponsors. It has a barren kind of utilitarian look to my eyes, but then again, in the selfsame way it is not yet commercially polluted with the de rigeur luxury that floats like pond scum over the American cityscape.
I found myself wishing that in Los Angeles, we would be more accustomed to a mix of Latins that weren't crowded into a few narrow socioeconomic rungs on the lower edges of society. This first look into Latin America reminds me of what is basic that works in modern society and emphasizes what is obviously wrong in the country next door. As my associates consider their prospects in Medallin, a city once irrevocably associated with drug cartels, escaping the rapidly failing Venezuela, there is most definitely optimism. Colombia is the up and coming digital hub of Latin America, and yes the digital workspace we rented at Impact Hub, is just what you expect. Some bandwidth for digital entrepreneurs and specialty coffee. Here is the place you can order paella for lunch. It comes in attractive boxes and is way cooler than pizza.
As I sit in the ghetto airport that is Ft Lauderdale, waiting for my delayed flight to get me back to Los Angeles, I find myself missing the clean expanse of Bogota's El Dorado International. Then again, we have our airways for the class of folks that are on Bogota's busses. The future of the Western Hemisphere is not in doubt for me, and my company's alliance with Latin America and Australia is giving me a unique perspective in international business and living. I am proud to be Western. We know how to live, and I think we will survive with confidence any sort of catastrophe evil men are planning for us. We are working with optimism here, and we know how to build and rebuild. Our people expect it, and they are right to.